The most historic regional ruling body of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC)—Classis Grand Rapids East—has said "in principle" that it is acceptable for its churches to ordain women.

The classis's statement counters a June CRC synodical ruling that said ordaining women is against Scripture (CT, Aug. 15, 1994, p. 52).

The new action by the prestigious Grand Rapids East Classis, which encompasses the CRC's Calvin College and Seminary, may signal "a radicalizing moment" in the denomination, according to Charlotte Ellison, a CRC member who has actively opposed male-only clergy within the denomination.

"It seems to me that the Christian Reformed Church has been faced with something very much like [what faced] the Southern Baptist Convention of a few years ago," she told a classis gathering.

In June, the all-male CRC synod in a 184-to-95 vote overruled a synod decision last year to allow women as ministers, elders, and evangelists. The second vote was required by church law before the action could take effect.

This year, the synod also passed a measure urging all congregations that had ordained women to "release them from office" by June 1, 1995.

Fifteen Christian Reformed churches have ordained women despite the at-large ban; five are in Classis Grand Rapids East, and all five of those churches say they will not comply with synod urgings to release their women ministers, according to Reformed Believers Press Service.

Some CRC leaders are concerned at how abruptly Grand Rapids East voted to reject the synod's June rulings. "It is a solemn decision for a body in the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition to advise ecclesiastical disobedience," retired Calvin College professor Henry Beversluis said.

"This was a power move by the ministers," said Seymour CRC pastor Gerry Zandstra, who attended the classis gathering. "It has been hastily, emotionally, and inappropriately done."

Robert Godfrey, president of Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, California, said the classis's action will be challenged at large. "I think this decision is tragic," Godfrey said. He said that "it is one thing" for the classis to "ignore" churches in its midst that have appointed women elders counter to the synod's rulings, but that "it's another thing to approve that defiance."

But in a letter to Grand Rapids East, the executive committee of the historic First Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids congregation said, "We see no 'clear' message in the Bible that would disqualify women from serving as elders. We are offended by the way the synodical decision attempts to decide our consciences for us."

Replied Godfrey, "The fact that some people think the Scripture is unclear on a subject doesn't make the Scripture unclear. There were even 'good' Presbyterians in late seventeenth-century England who thought Scripture was unclear on the divinity of Christ."

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